Last week, I began a series of message about my values and vision for this church.
I have three immediate goals for the church. The first is to continue the cleaning and renovation of the church, both in its physical appearance, financial stability, and internal organizational structure. This is necessary to clear away the past so we can get on with the future.
The second goal is to continue to renew our sense of community. Loving and caring for each other is as important as anything else we do. It does no good to build a great organization if we are not also a family who love and care about each other. What does it matter if we grow into the biggest ministry in town, if we do it by forgetting to love any one of us? We go forward by first loving one another.
The third goal is to build a new vision for the church. That vision must be Biblical and easily understood by everyone.
A church vision is more than a church style. Many confuse the two. Whether we use contemporary or traditional music, wear robes or sandals, or cater to young people or old are questions of style, not vision. Styles change, but vision stays. It is how we interpret God’s call upon the church for all times
Churches with vision may be traditional or contemporary, liturgical or informal—it does not matter much in the end. They may have many different kinds of people with many different interests, but that is just style and culture, not vision. Churches with vision are not so much concerned about what they do, but why they do it. They understand what they are supposed to be doing, and can express in a few words what that vision is.
Over the years, my understanding of the vision of the church has changed. I want to express to you in the clearest way I can what I perceive now as the mission of the church.
I used to think it was simple. Just win people to Jesus! I grew up in Southern evangelical churches where churches were just a preaching station for evangelism, but getting people to profess Jesus isn’t all we do. Long ago, I discovered if I speak the right emotional intensity, I could usually get young people to “come to Jesus.” However, when they came, it usually did not last. Then the gains we made were temporary. Our world is full of people who claim to have found Jesus and lost Him. They backslid almost immediately. We are the most preached at country in the history of the world, yet godlessness and secularism are all around us. York County, South Carolina has over seven hundred churches, most of them Bible-Believing evangelical churches, yet we seem to be no better off for it. Gospel preaching isn’t the problem. Most of our churches seem to be focused on attracting people from other churches. There’s more to the Gospel than just preaching it. We have to live it.
The simplest, clearest vision of what the church is supposed to be doing is found in the Great Commission, in Matthew 28: 18-20,
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This passage has three parts to. The first part is the introduction. “All authority is given to me on heaven and on earth”
Jesus’ declaration of His authority is important for two reasons. First, He has authority over the church. He is saying, “Don’t argue with me. I have the right to declare the vision of the church.” If we think the church is a political activist organization, a social agency, a center for cultural preservation, or a society for promoting vegetarianism, then that’s our vision. Jesus defines the vision of the church according to His own wishes.
Second, he declares His authority over the world. He is also pointing out to us that when He tells us to do something, it can happen. He has the power to accomplish what He wants, and to preserve what we build, because He is in charge. God give us the keys to the world and says, “Go, take what you need to do My mission.”
At the end of the Great Commission He says, “I am with you always.” We don’t have to go it alone. He goes with us. As we trust Him, things will happen.
In between, in verse 19 comes the meat of the Great Commission. This is composed with four statements. First, he says, “Go into the world.” This is a participial phrase. It really means, “As you are going.” It isn’t so much a foray into enemy territory as it is just going about our daily lives.
“Make disciples of all nations.” “Nations” is the Greek word “ethnos” meaning any and every social group. The nations are not the disciples, but disciples come from all nations. Not everyone will be a disciple--only those who believe. We make disciples that are black, white, Hispanic and oriental, but we also make disciples who are bankers, homeless people, surfers, rappers, goths, Clemson fans, country music lovers, video game aficionados, and dental hygienists. We get disciples from every kind of person in the world.
Then “Baptize them.” Baptism was a rite bestowed by the Body of Christ. It was a sign that they had become part of the community.
Jesus is describing a process, not a linear process as some think of, but a cycle. It looks something like the diagram shown here.
Usually, talking about it from the first box—“Go”. The first command. We start with go seek them in the world. Then we have make disciples, which we take to mean preach Jesus to them. Then we get them baptized, which is to get them in the door of the church. Then we teach them, which is like getting them to come to Sunday School. However, this is an overly simplistic.
The church in America doesn’t need to “go” into the world. We are already in it. There are seven hundred churches among us in York County alone. We are in the world. I could preach a sermon this morning on going to church, but why? You’re already here. We’re here, but we are not making a difference. We’re here, but no one is paying attention.
If our going is not helping, then let’s back the cycle up. One part leads to the next. It’s not our going, but our being taught to observe that isn’t working.
I had a friend named Joe who always looked as if he were sucking lemons. He wasn’t a bad guy, he just looked that way. He worked at a Salvation Army kettle over Christmas. He stood on the street corner and rasped, “God bless you” to everyone, but he just creeped everyone out. People would walk around the block to avoid him. His words were right, his heart was right, but his demeanor was wrong.
We’re out in the world, but our demeanor is not Christ’s demeanor. We’re saved, but we don’t act any different from one another. That’s why the world is not being made of disciples, because the examples we are giving them are not like Jesus.
We don’t just preach in the world—we live in it. Every moment of our day, every word we speak, every look we give is a testimony to our Savior. We can’t just go into the world--we must live like Jesus in the world as we go.
The Greeks had a word for this—theosis. The Christian life is a process of becoming like Jesus. We are not just preaching Jesus, but we are becoming like Him, or else our words are wasted. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, and our obedience and willingness to follow the Word, we are Christlike. The closer we come to Him, the more potent our influence. We are salt, we are light, we are leaven.
The other two commands of the Great Commission describe steps to theosis. Making disciples—catechesis—is our basic training. It is shaking off the old world, and adopting the new. The early church put its potential member through three years of training before they were baptized to learn what it meant to live and act like a Christian.
Baptism was an act of adoption. Jesus never intended for people to go out and act like Him alone. Can you imagine a world where everyone thought they were Jesus, and not one ever said, “Not yet, you aren’t!” Or could you imagine being told that you were supposed to act like Jesus, then there was no one to help you? Actually, you don’t have to imagine it—it’s all around us in the church! Many Christians don’t think they need other Christians, to live like Christ, while others are convinced they can never live like Jesus, because there is on one to help them. We need each other, and the fellowship of each other, to achieve any progress to becoming like Jesus.
But once we have the basic training, and once we have the support of the church, then we can go on to learn to observe the tougher commands of God. Then, we can go out into the world, not to represent ourselves, but in the power and presence of Christ.
We learn to observe the things He taught in the Sermon on the Mount. Love your enemies. Love one another. Give to those who ask. Don’t worry about what you eat or drink, but seek first the Kingdom of God. Most of them seem as far above us as differential calculus is over the head of a second grader. But these are ideals that are set before us, realizable only over time through our seeking Jesus.
The vision of our church is, or ought to be to produce people who are like Jesus. When we do that, then the world will sit up and take notice. The vision I seek in my life at this time, is to be like Him in all ways, and to help others become like Him in every way.